To build a stable business, farmers regularly need information on a wide range of subjects. They need long and short-term weather reports to choose the best time to plant and harvest. They need current information on the spread of pests and diseases that might threaten their crops. They need to get the latest tips and advice to make the most of their available land. And they need market data to find the right buyers at exactly the right time. But farmers don’t want all the information; they only want what’s relevant to their specific needs. And to help them, a few services are now providing agricultural information tailored to fit the particular working conditions of individual farmers.
In the Seeing is Believing-West Africa (SIBWA) project, scientists at ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) worked with local partners and farmers to interpret information from very high resolution imagery (VHRI) taken from satellites. When analyzed, the images can reveal the relative fertility of soil and give an accurate measurement of the exact shape and size of a field.
With this knowledge, farmers can determine the precise amount of fertilizer, pesticide and seeds needed to evenly cover their land. The images also show if the farmer’s tillage techniques have followed the precise contours of the landscape to provide maximum water filtration and limit soil erosion. The project, working with communities in Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Niger, provided each farmer with the images, maps and data relating to their specific field to help them to plan and manage the next season’s crop.
It is also crucial for farmers get their information quickly. In Uganda, the Grameen Foundation has developed a network of advisors, known as community knowledge workers (CKWs), to provide answers to specific agricultural queries. Using a range of applications installed on a mobile phone, the CKW can look up market data, access weather forecasts and give cultivation advice. The project trained trusted people already living in the community so that they can be contacted quickly and easily by farmers.
The CKW network has proven to be a useful link between farmers and agricultural researchers. The project tested the use of mobile phones and geographic information system (GIS) technology to investigate the spread of banana diseases in the country. The CKWs entered data from farmers into a mobile survey application, which they then sent to researchers along with GPS coordinates of each surveyed farm. Scientists were able to use the information to produce accurate maps detailing the occurrence of each disease and develop strategies to limit the spread.
In response to the demand for customized agricultural information, the mobile phone manufacturer Nokia has developed an application that delivers weather, crop and market information directly to the farmer’s phone depending on their location and the crops they grow. The service, called Nokia Life Tools, analyzes thousands of pieces of information a day to provide farmers with a daily update. Farmers pay a subscription fee of just over US$1.00 a month for the service, which provides the data in the language of their choice.
Similarly, the DatAgro project in Chile uses new technology developed by DataDyne, a not-for-profit organization, to organize selected content from the internet into RSS feeds and deliver that to farmers via SMS.
Such services bring farmers a range of detailed information relevant to the crops they grow and the environment they live in. And, although much of the information is gathered from many different sources, the farmer only has to deal with one point of delivery, either an extension officer, a member of their community or a mobile phone. Farmers no longer have to look around for advice or filter out unwanted details; they can finally concentrate on getting the best out of their farms.